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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor concerned over changing America

Sumiteru Taniguchi, chairman of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council. (Mainichi)

In the evening on Dec. 26, 2016, 88-year-old Sumiteru Taniguchi, chairman of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, stood in a shopping street in central Nagasaki. Standing next to Taniguchi were the heads of other atomic bomb survivor groups. Together, they promoted the "Hibakusha appeal" -- a petition designed to be sent off to the United Nations, demanding the sealing of a nuclear weapons convention. In total, they collected about 400 signatures in the space of approximately one hour. "We hold onto the hope, however small, that nuclear weapons will one day be abolished," commented a resolute Taniguchi, whose stance on the issue is unwavering.

"As long as my body is functioning, I will continue to campaign against nuclear weapons," stated the octogenarian. Underlying Taniguchi's determination is a sense of crisis.

On Nov. 27, one month prior to Taniguchi's "Hibakusha appeal" in the streets of Nagasaki, Katsuki Masabayashi, who was chairman of an association that represents the relatives of Nagasaki atomic bomb victims, died at the age of 77. Masabayashi was Taniguchi's campaigning companion. Together, they asked prime ministers and other officials to implement measures in support of atomic bomb survivors, when they visited Nagasaki every Aug. 9. Taniguchi believes that groups which support survivors and bereaved relatives need to stick together in order to maintain the momentum of the campaign.

In May 2016, then U.S. President Barack Obama, who spoke of "a world without nuclear weapons" in Prague in 2009, became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. However, Taniguchi has been somewhat disappointed by America's lack of action on nuclear weapons. "No real measures have been taken by the U.S. to ensure that tragedies like Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never happen again. All we have are ideas -- put forward at both the start and end of Obama's term in office."

As for Obama's successor, U.S. President Donald Trump, Taniguchi is even more critical, stating, "Trump's discriminatory comments concerning race and religion are the seeds of conflict. He has even stated that Japan should have nuclear weapons. This is dangerous talk."

The global situation concerning nuclear weapons is murky, but some hold out hope that the U.N.'s nuclear weapons convention negotiations in March will go well. At the opening ceremony of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues held in Nagasaki in December 2016, Taniguchi delivered an emotional speech to the audience, stating that "nuclear weapons are the weapons of the devil." He also showed some photos of his severely burned back, which was caused by the extreme heat of the atomic bomb that fell on Nagasaki in 1945 while he was delivering mail about 1.8 kilometers from the hypocenter. He made a strong plea to all the senior officials in the audience to work toward achieving a nuclear weapons convention.

The atomic bomb left the 16-year-old Taniguchi on the verge of dying. He survived, however, and became known as the "boy with the bright red back," spending much of his life going in and out of the hospital. Having survived for 71 years since the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Taniguchi turned 88 on Jan. 26, 2017.

"Perhaps I have managed to live this long, as a kind of compensation for all the suffering I have endured, and for the anti-nuclear weapon campaigning I have done over the years," reflects Taniguchi. The 88-year-old campaigner wants to keep going, and keep spreading the slogan of "no more atomic bomb victims" across the world. (By Eisuke Obata, Nagasaki Bureau)

(This is Part 2 of an ongoing series.)

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